What unites a legendary Paralympian, a House of Lords member and a crop of fmcg leaders? All spoke at GroceryAid’s Diversity in Grocery Live Event on Friday 21 October, attended by over 1500 delegates at the O2 Arena InterContinental Hotel.

The day of networking, talks and debates celebrated progress in the industry, and shone a light on the hurdles still to overcome. Here are four key takeaways from the event:

1. Senior leaders are vital

At last year’s event, Innocent Drinks UK & Ireland MD Sam Akinluyi called out the lack of senior leaders in attendance. In a sign of progress, this year’s event featured a panel of big hitters from Sainsbury’s, P&G, Deliveroo, Tesco Mobile, Co-op and Diageo. 

The panel hammered home the importance of higher ranks taking part in D&I events, and becoming more involved in driving change within their own companies. Busi Sizani, head of diversity, equity & inclusion at Deliveroo, argued senior engagement trickled down to other employees. Meanwhile, P&G Northern Europe senior vice president Tom Moody said change at the top of the company – its board now has an equal gender split – had brought new perspectives to the boardroom and improved business overall.

2. D&I can ease labour shortages

Certain areas of the industry, particularly supply chain and logistics, are finding it tough to recruit. As Sainsbury’s director of fresh supply chain, Anujah De Wit, summed up: “Supply chain isn’t sexy.”

Diversity and inclusion can be part of the solution. De Wit suggested making the job attractive to groups that wouldn’t typically choose a career in supply chain and logistics, such as mothers with smaller children, or certain ethnic minorities. That could be achieved through better flexible and home working policies, she said.

Another strategy is to target the younger generation. Arla Foods is working to reach out to schools and universities to showcase what a career in supply chain could look like, revealed site director Maria Chacon Cubo. “These are the jobs that people threaten their kids with,” she said. “The conversation needs to shift so that supply chain, warehouse and manufacturing jobs are a reality for young people.”

Read more: Women in power: ‘we need to change the industry from the inside’

3. Inclusion includes mental health

This year’s event showcased two stories highlighting the significant role of employers in supporting mental health. Obiamaka Azubike, European category & shopper manager at Kellogg’s, told of how the company helped her find a therapist that would understand how her cultural heritage was intrinsically linked to the issues she had faced at different workplaces throughout the years, including racism and sexism, since moving from Nigeria to the UK. 

And KPMG consumer markets retail & leisure exec Dan Hughes said connecting with senior male role models at his company after a serious mental health crisis aided his recovery.

4. The importance of championing others

One piece of advice in particular stayed with many who attended the event. It came from Mars’ Mariama Conteh, the M&M’s London store director and D&I advocate: “If you climb that ladder, don’t take it with you. Leave it for someone who doesn’t sound or look like you.”

This struck a chord with many of the leaders in the room, who vowed to create more opportunities for those who are often disadvantaged by societal bias. The food industry has one of the most diverse workforces in the country – now is the time for that representation to shine across the entire corporate spectrum.